The 32-year old man who recruited their daughter had repeatedly raped
and drugged her and forced her into the sex trade, where she was
advertised online and sold for sex.
This story of a 15-year old girl being bought and then sold on the
Internet shortly thereafter is one of thousands that occur every day
throughout the U.S., in small towns and large cities, across every
demographic and socioeconomic group. The wild west Internet and relative
anonymity of its users who sell boys and girls online to a steady
supply of buyers present a growing challenge to law enforcement. And the
victims of this abhorrent practice have had little ability to fight
back and receive the justice they deserve ... until now.
Online child sex traffickers and their “customers” are now facing an end
to their immunity from prosecution and legal liability, as are the
Internet platforms being used as a marketplace for the modern-day sex
The Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, which
is scheduled for a Senate vote as soon as today, is a modern-day
political miracle. The bipartisan bill provides law enforcement with the
tools necessary to fight online sexual predators, and to give states
and human trafficking survivors the power to sue websites that
facilitate trafficking. Last week, it passed the U.S. House of
Representatives by an overwhelming 388-25 vote, and it should sail
through the Senate as well.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing business of organized crime in
the U.S., making nearly $32 billion a year for criminals while
destroying tens of thousands of lives. Currently, there are more than
100,000 children in America who are victims of human trafficking.
The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a
report last year on online sex trafficking in the U.S., saying sex
trafficking has largely moved from the streets to the Internet, where
traffickers maintain control of victims across state lines, avoid law
enforcement, and make huge profits. The Internet also allows buyers to
avoid detection by procuring victims with the click of a button. As of
2014, an estimated 70 percent of child sex trafficking victims were sold
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act has been used for years to
block law enforcement and victims from holding human traffickers and
websites accountable. This legislation will allow federal prosecutors to
use state sex trafficking laws and promotion of prostitution laws to
prosecute websites that are used to sell victims of trafficking, while
also creating a new federal crime specifically designed for bad acting
websites now engaged in the online sex trade.
The faith community and law enforcement, alongside a broad coalition of
governmental and nongovernmental organizations, remains committed to
protecting our most vulnerable. But online sex trafficking hubs and
their corporate Big Tech protectors have tried to hide behind the smoke
screen of censorship and the First Amendment to protect profits and
provide safe haven for modern-day slave traders.
Last year, a coalition of anti-child sex trafficking and public interest
groups, including the Faith and Freedom Coalition, examined the Center
for Democracy & Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation,
two of the nonprofit organizations that have been fighting against
changes to Section 230, to the benefit of Backpage.com (the leading
online facilitator of the sale of trafficked children) and other online
platforms for selling children. These two groups have received millions
of dollars from gargantuan Big Tech firms like Google to lobby Congress,
and millions more to defend online trafficking websites in court.
Fortunately, members of both parties have resisted the temptation of Big
Tech and its well-oiled lobbying efforts and deep campaign coffers.
This new legislation not only protects vulnerable victims of the online
sex trade instead of profit and political donations, but it shines a
light on online marketplaces contributing to the growing epidemic of sex
trafficking in the U.S.
Congress and the president are on the cusp of supplying major
reinforcement for law enforcement and others on the front lines
combatting human trafficking. But we are not in the clear yet and
government action alone will not stop sex trafficking, but passage of
the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act will
better equip law enforcement, empower survivors, and ensure websites can
no longer traffic victims for sex with impunity.
Tim Head is executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Kevin Malone is president of the U.S. Institute Against Human
Trafficking and former executive vice president of the Los Angeles